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Bitters Are Better – An Herbalists Favorite Group Of Plants

Why bitters are Better & What Plants are the Go To Ones!

Sure, I am starting this article out with a blatant opinion.  BUT it is backed by mechanisms of the body and scientific studies. I want to help close the gap between what we think we know about digestion and what is going on.  How we can help with more healthful food choices, and how a certain group of powerful plants can help.  Many herbalists share this opinion because was a whole, we generally believe that health starts in the gut.  And bitter herbs are all about encouraging a healthy, fully functioning digestive system. 

I am especially attached to this opinion and for those of you who have been reading my blog by now, surely, have noticed a pattern… I am completely obsessed with applying herbs to encourage, stimulate,and nourish our bodies.  Bitters are doing that so much better than eating extra enzymes, taking pro-biotic pills, and slamming fiber drinks each day to help with ‘efficiency’ in elimination. 

Encouragement from Food

What I love is applying herbs and food that encourage systems to work.  And work they way nature created them to, efficiently and effectively.  Stimulate organs to function optimally so that nourishment of our cells happens perfectly.  All of this must start somewhere, each process of our body has been compromised by the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet)way of eating … no coincidence in this acronym… our bodies now need more assistance in regaining health than plainly switching food habits up.  HOWEVER, This IS an incredibly important aspect of achieving a perfectly functioning system.  

I also feel that as cause and effect take place.  Our bodies NEED gentle enlightenment from groups of powerful chemical constituents found in our wild plant friends.

Dandelion, flower, leaf & root. All encouraging to the digestive system to be hardy, strong, and nourishing through the high content of minerals & vitamins this plant contains. A true gem in the bitter realm.

Truly… they are a FAVORITE

This group is my favorite group of plants.  They are the bitter roots, greens and flowers of our woodlands, parries, bogs, sidewalk cracks, and front yards.  These amazingly stimulating plants are ESSENTIAL to finding the place of balance that nature intended our bodies to be in. 

They are strong, relentless, and deliciously bitter!  Most likely you are thinking that bitter is not better, bitter is unpleasant, and I do not like it.  Most of all don’t we taste bitter to warn our primal brains of dangerous constituents in plants?  Isn’t spitting bitter out going to keep me alive?  The answer to all these questions is yes! 

That is exactly what bitter is and WHY bitter is better. But, before I dive into some Scientifics, physiology and the like.  I feel it would be beneficial to address not only the questions, but the possible… accusations, and defenses of my suggesting in shifting your existence.

Trained by Chemical Response

WE have been trained by many different sources that sugars…  coming from sucrose (table sugar), grains, and lactose (milk sugars) … are an acceptable source of nutrients.  ‘Heart healthy grains!” ‘Get your calcium from MILK!” …  then the sneakier version of sucrose being in most items of food found in a package…  don’t believe me…? 

I challenge you to start reading past the Nutrition Facts Label to the list of Ingredients…  it will shock you as to how many foods have sugar, wheat, and hidden diary products in them…  maybe even wondering WHY is that in there? 

Sugars create a chemical response in our brains that say “yes… this is so good, I love it, it makes me feel good… now give me more of that!”  This rings so close to what addiction feels like to someone who can’t put their substance of choice down.  Not to mention what sugar does in our digestive system, where chronic over use of sugar creates a different kind of dependency on insulin, a condition better known as diabetes.

Harvesting the 2020 crop of Angelica arguta. A potent & prolific Biannual plant of the Rocky Mountains. Angelica is not only a prime bitter herb, but one that encourages movement through the uterus along side the digestive system.

As we continue to satiate this craving for sweet and delicious as our sensory and hormonal systems keep us looping through this response, what are we not realizing is being neglected elsewhere?  Not only diabetes is a concern, but obesity,heart disease and some studies are pointing a big finger at sugar being a leading cause of cancer.  So, we trade a few moments, repeatedly, of satisfaction from sugar to hand our lives over to these debilitating and sometimes deadly conditions of modern life. 


Truly… I do not mean for this writing to turn into a sugar slamming article to preach of the dooming land of the ‘white death’, but it does have a huge part to play as to why we do not want to stimulate other tastes in our bodies.  Not only that, but bitter stimulus allows each of us to take control of our minds, bodies, and health in one simple application of plants. 

The roller coaster effect of a sugar high is not enjoyable, and those who have had a life long struggle with this ride, know best, and usually want off!  Bitter can do this, bitter is BETTER!  When we decide to alter aspects of our chosen existence to tweak it for the better, we aren’t the only ones who thrive with a healthier system, we have more energy for our passions, our families and furry friends, work even becomes less daunting as we are able to stay in the moment when it calls. 

The dependency that sugar has us in is only destructive, and if bigger health diminishing issues aren’t at the front of your mind, I think that better forces of energy, and mind set will capture the remainder of you.  Change is never easy, and when someone else suggests it, forget about it. 

I do not want to be that person who is annoyingly telling you the path you are on needs altering, I am here to be your cheerleader for the dedication you have been leaning towards.  I am here to encourage you as you grow fully into this new experience of life!  Bitter is wild, weedy and hyper!  Constantly chaotic yet perfectly consistent, just the way nature is…   does that not sound like a super sweet place to live life from…? 

Sugar…  Why it Sucks

Through ignoring components of our digestion by sticking with the modern diet of western society, we have put to rest some key aspects to maintaining fluidity through the eliminatory organs.  Not only starting with the stomach, but the small intestine, large intestine, and liver. 

Our pancreases work over time, but the remainder of these organs are functioning at a much lower level of vitality than would be the standard of normal through nature.  Something can indeed bring us back to the most efficient level all on its own, surprise!  Its bitters. I have worked with people who are healthy but have massive sugar cravings that turn into times of binges, then later in life put them on the edge of the diabetes spectrum. 

It has shifted with bitters, sugar cravings leave, satiation from meals stays, and blood sugar levels balance.  Bitters are behind the brighter health futures of these individuals.  How do they do this though?  What are the mechanisms behind bitters being so effective in the body?  Because western medicine does not recognize herbs as medicine yet, I want to make it clear that what I am saying is based off scientific research, and herbs have not been proven to treat, or cure any conditions of the body.  The encouragement this group of plants gives the body is real, it’s powerful, and something I hope becomes the new crave of our brains!

Long Forgotten Bitter Responses

A known aspect of food and eating we all know very well is taste.  How delicious was your dinner?  What about dessert?  A snack… did it satiate that magical yummy response?  What is it that grabs onto something we taste and gives us the enjoyable responses of food?  Scientifically these mechanisms are known as TRs, or Taste Receptors.  There are salty TRs, sweet TRs, savory TRs and yes, you guessed it BITTER TRs.  Though they are known as T2Rs. 

Bitter receptors are in the mouth, throat,stomach, small and large intestine and even have been found in the brain… just like all our other TRs they are in all the sensory organs of the digestive system and indeed that does include your brain, they have even been found in the lungs…  what does this tell us?  Smelling bitter is a response?  Possibly! 

When these T2Rs are stimulated by bitter plants, and foods they send a signal down the vagus nerve to our stomach that food is on the way, get ready to digest.  The mouth salivates, and the stomach begins to churn higher amounts of pepsin, HCL, and other digestive juices prepping itself for what it does best, breaking down food. 

Stimulate to Regenrate

Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens) is a PRIME bitter herb. Helping with the concentration of Bile in the Gallbladder along with contributing to the strength of our liver. So much Magic from this potent plant.

With this time of preparation, the stomach takes the invitation and processes more thoroughly, mindfully and slowly.  Keeping us fuller and more satisfied for longer periods of time.  This leads to proper and through assimilation of nutrients in the small intestine that feed our cells more fully to provide better functioning organs, more efficient and sustained energy, all in all our bodies function at their highest level, not only when they are nourished, but nourished effectively. 

When your bitter receptors are stimulated with bitter foods, all of this happens effortlessly, and more.  Though slightly unpleasant at first try, the implementation of bitter into your daily life is simple and incredibly effective.  Re-introducing a modernly missing link to the ancient body is a powerful collection of wild, fibrous bitter plants.

When your bitter receptors are stimulated with bitter foods, all of this happens effortlessly, and more.  Though slightly unpleasant at first try, the implementation of bitter into your daily life is simple and incredibly effective.  Re-introducing a modernly missing link to the ancient body is a powerful collection of wild, fibrous bitter plants.

What TRs are Meant to Do

Simulating these neglected Taste Receptors helps with many common digestive complaints.  Gas and bloating after meal time indicates a slow and inefficient digestion.  Applying bitters encourages efficiency in the stomach for better breakdowns of food, thus when the chyme enters the lower duodenum and goes into the small intestine, more nutrients are assimilated, and healthy gut flora is fed.  This cuts down a gassy guy and sluggish digestion is alleviated.  

Mechanisms Meant to Shut

Heartburn, Gurd, or acid reflux, are all in the same genre of issues where the upper duodenum doesn’t stay shut.  This mechanism sits a the top and bottom of the stomach and is meant to be a muscular barrier so food and chyme (food that is broken down and leaving the stomach) stay where they are going and where they were put. 

The duodenum is meant to close, but obesity, inefficient processing in the stomach, and lack of smooth muscle stimulation through proper lifestyle actions make an environment where the top duodenum remains open after the stomach begins to break down food with acids, enzymes,and other digestive juices.  This leave a n acidic environment, meant to be closed off in the stomach for digestion time, available to move back into the esophagus. Partially digested food and acids of the stomach are then free to enter the esophagus creating an acidic and uncomfortable experience that leaves an acidic reflux in the throat, and sometimes mouth. 

Long term Acid Reflux can cause great damage to the esophagus as only the stomach has the appropriate barriers to deal with the acids that begin the breakdown of our food.  Bitter remedies are fast acting and quickly alleviate these common digestive disorders just by encouraging our bodies to do what they were meant to.  Of course, it is equally important to address the underlying cause of these common problems which usually includes dietary shifts and lifestyle adjustments.

MORE Resources

I could continue to tackle why and how these important taste receptors also balance blood sugar issues, woman’s complaints, hormone issue sand food cravings, but I feel more postings coming on.  For now, I encourage you to read more, It Stops Here. Period. is a post related to woman’s reproductive health and talks a great deal on how common PMS related issues that are alleviated with Bitter herbs.  As well as checking out some of my bitter remedies. 

Teton Fire Cider

Mahonia Mountain Bitters

Nettle Dandelion Vinegar Bitters

More are in development stages and all are as nutrition’s as they are BITTER!

Thanks for reading and watch for more on this evolving subject!

Here’s to health!